The Role of Design Systems in Healthcare Digital Transformation

Design systems are crucial tools for helping healthcare organizations transition to digital experiences and ensure patients and providers have a seamless experience.

In the realm of healthcare, where digital transformation is reshaping patient care and operational efficiencies, design systems have emerged as crucial tools. Our latest panel discussion “The Blueprint: How Healthcare Orgs Craft Design Systems” with Cameron Roberson (Manager, User Experience at BCBS Louisiana), Krizia Fernando (Lead Designer, Design Systems at Evernorth), and Lee Wells (Associate Director, Enterprise Design Standards at Humana) highlighted the complexities and strategies involved in implementing these systems effectively within healthcare organizations. 

Understanding Diverse User Needs

Design systems for healthcare organizations serve a variety of internal teams from user researchers to content strategists to QA engineers who serve a broad range of end users. Cameron noted that they build for very different personas, from "a member is coming for information about their healthcare, their plan. They've got a very urgent need, whereas a provider may be coming to check eligibility or something like that."

"Anything that's being created out of [the design system] is for members, potential members, providers, such as that. But what our real customer is, of course, is those different design groups," added Lee.

Impact of Digitization and Role of Design Systems

While many of us live and breathe technology, it was only in the last 5-10 years that healthcare started to transition to digital. A lot of things were done through mail, print, and calls. Design systems have played a pivotal role in healthcare's digitization, by providing a framework to standardize interfaces and improved usability across digital platforms.

“Having a system allows for more areas [of healthcare] to build more quickly rather than having to really come up to speed and start from scratch,” Lee explained. “The design system accounts for those digital needs to make sure brand shows up, to make sure accessibility shows up, and to make sure different areas such as marketing have great resources for going digital.”

Digital doesn’t just mean desktops and high-speed internet either. These design systems pay close attention to mobile responsiveness and ensuring patients in rural areas can easily access healthcare from their mobile devices.

Principles in Healthcare Design Systems

Accessibility emerged as a top priority for design systems in healthcare, aligning with standards like WCAG to ensure inclusivity and enhance usability for all users.

"Accessibility is the core of usability. Design systems should always prioritize accessibility.” - Krizia Fernando

Lee added that, “There's so many levels of accessibility, even for just the average aging individual, that can not only benefit them, but benefit a lot of people.”

In addition to accessibility, Cameron stressed the significance of intentional design to simplify user interactions and integrate security and privacy seamlessly within healthcare interfaces. He noted, "In the world of health insurance, nothing is really easy or clear, and it's complicated, even to those of us who work in it day in and day out. So we have to keep that in mind as we design our interfaces, because that friction is a given.”

Connecting Systems and Collaboration

A unique role design systems in healthcare plays is in connecting different patient portals and systems to maintain a seamless user experience. "When that user's moving between looking up claims information and then they need to go find a doctor, that may be a different platform, but we need to tie that together somehow,” Cameron shared.

They work with third-party providers to see how their design system can align with other vendors and see where the overlap is. Sometimes it’s as simple as using the same brand colors. “We strengthened our token architecture to ensure that it's going to be an easy workflow to theme across all these brands,” added Krizia.

Lee provided more color to how they manage this at Humana, “We're using reusable elements, so even if you're a third party and you're working with us, you get access to it. You can build pretty much white label, but within our guardrails, within our standards, what you need and modify it, tweak it a little bit, but be able to create from that, from different global libraries that we've created in different areas. So again, all stemming from our core design standards and resources.”

Token architecture and reusable design elements help to ensure consistency across different brands and platforms by facilitating white-labeling and maintaining brand identity.

In healthcare, design systems play an instrumental role in ensuring digital experiences are accessible and consistent across patient portals and healthcare systems for patients, providers, and stakeholders alike. They have also allowed healthcare organizations to transition quickly from print to digital, and continue to help these organizations keep up with the ever evolving digital landscape.

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